Why Ireland is not a welcoming place for single parents

Opinion: Changes in one-parent family payments next month will affect 5,000 families

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 10:01

Commentary abounds of the harsh treatment of unmarried mothers in the Ireland of the first half of the 20th century, of the punitive manner in which the State/church nexus sought to govern, control and punish those women who “fell” pregnant apparently all of their own doing. The regime brutally achieved its aim of stigmatising them as having failed themselves, their families and their society. Exacted from them and their children was the right to be visible in society.

A single mother’s lot in Ireland today is clearly a world away from this. To be a middle-class single mother as this writer is, is to have a job, independence and the capacity to accept the end of a relationship that had come to hurt and disappoint, in the knowledge that the children will be fed and clothed.

To be a poor single mother, however, or worse, a single mother dependent on the State, is still to be stigmatised as having failed. Too often, exacted from these women and their children is the right to participate in society. They account for the majority of the growing numbers of families becoming homeless and living in low-grade hotels.

To live in a single-parent household is to be four times more likely to be in consistent poverty than those in two-parent homes. Some 65 per cent of the children in consistent poverty at the height of the boom were in lone-parent homes.

A Family Support Agency survey in 2011 found high levels of loneliness and depression – and low levels of life satisfaction – among lone parents.

Jobseekers’ allowance

From next month, changes in children’s age limits for the one-parent family payments will result in enormous upheaval for just over 5,000 families. These single mothers will be moved on to jobseekers’ allowance and asked to get out and find work. The question of training and childcare, say organisations such as One Family, have not been adequately addressed.

The State seems to be signalling that it would be wrong for these mothers to be at home and care for their young children if to do so meant dependency on the State. Clearly, for a stay-at-home mother to be dependent on a man is acceptable.

Failing that, low-paid, low-skilled work may seem to render today’s unmarried mothers acceptable to society. Plus ça change.

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